July 01, 2003

The Bayeux Travesty

The Dissident Frogman discovers French anti-Americanism at its most inappropriate, at the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie. According to his eyewitness account, all American flags appear to have been purged from the premises.

He includes photos of the blank spaces where the flags used to be, most arrestingly the bare flagpole between the tricolor and the Union Jack at the main monument. If an erasure can be a desecration (and I'd guess it can be) this particular case exhibits pretty shocking disrespect-- more than this one, because it appears not to have been the work of mischievous vandals but rather the consummation of official policy on some level.

Perhaps there's some logical explanation. But if not, I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more about this, and "freedom fries" doesn't begin to cover it. I imagine there are already more than a few on the American street who are even now trying to come up with imaginative places to shove a certain statue...

Nice work, mes amis.

(via Michele.)

UPDATE: Well, it looks like I'm one of those who got the wrong end of the stick here, though it sure seemed like this was what the Dissident Frogman was getting at. Something was lost in the translation, obviously.

After reading the comment he left here; re-reading the original post; reading the first cryptic blurb chiding everyone for jumping to unwarranted conclusions; and finally, having read this post which further scolds everyone for "trying to put words in my mouth or thoughts in my mind that I never pronounced or cogitated" I have to admit that I'm more confused than ever.

So if the point wasn't that the US flags had been taken down at the memorial museum dedicated to the Battle of Normandy, what was the point? I give up. That there never were any American flags there to begin with, but that there ought to have been? (Unlikely, but if so, there sure ought to have been.) That the place was swimming in American flags except in the three places where the Frogman took the pictures? If so, dude, you, like, could have mentioned that part.

Like I said, reading the post and looking at the pictures, you get the definite impression that (a) there were once American flags there; (b) they had been taken down by someone; (c-- and here's where, taking this as read, speculation comes in) whoever took them down must have had some non-random reason for doing it; (d-- more speculation) it sure seems like that reason could have something to do with anti-Americanism and a desire to rewrite history. I could be way off-base here, but it still seems to me like that was what the Frogman was trying to convey in his original post.

If these data are inaccurate, or if they are so incomplete that the speculations are unwarranted (which may be the case, as "half the museum is dedicated to the American Sector"-- something about which the Dissident Frogman remained silent till the second post) then what was so troubling about the flag situation in the first place? Why even post about it? If, on the other hand, the conclusion is warranted that the missing flags represent some attempt at an anti-American statement on the part of someone connected with the museum, why flip out when someone mentions it?

Like I say, I give up.

So maybe this doesn't have "international incident" written all over it, as I supposed it might. I apologize to the Dissident Frogman, the museum, the town of Bayeux, and the French, and leave it to my readers to make up their own minds on the matter if they are at all interested in pursuing it any further.

2ND AND FINAL UPDATE: Angie Schultz, in the comments to this post, points out this entry from a LGF commenter who is in France and who called the museum to ask about the flagpole:

Their answer is that the middle pole is supposed to be empty. The only flag that will ever be raised on that pole is the Sherwood Rangers standard (once a year), and no, a U.S. flag is not allowed on that pole -- this is a Sherwood Rangers memorial site...

Why aren't there two more poles with a U.S. and a Canadian flag? They don't know. Maybe because it was a British unit. But it's always been like that...

When a well-meaning polemicist accidentally (we must assume, as we are kind people of generous spirit) oversells his case with hyperbolic rhetoric and it turns out that he has inadvertently (we hope) presented the facts in a misleading way, what the well-meaning polemicist ought to do is say: "I'm sorry, folks, I meant well, but I oversold the case with hyperbolic rhetoric and a misleading presentation of the facts." And perhaps add a sweet little note about how the whole thing is a bit embarrassing. What he ought not to do is blame the people who fell for it. That'll just make 'em mad.

Anyway, if you haven't already read the comments, there's a great one from Jody Tresidder on the blogoshpere's "liberating" propensity for self-correction cum evidence trail. It includes a very funny, spot on parody of a lede to a follow-up story as it might have appeared if this had followed the usual print media curve:

"The sun-browned wrinkled hands of 86-year-old Pierre DuPont tremble slightly as he reverentially strokes the glass cabinet containing portions of an American airman's uniform..."
Heh heh heh. Anyway, I agree completely. Self-correction rules.

By the way, the DF's site is currently turning up a 404 error message. I sincerely hope he comes back hoppin'.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 1, 2003 11:55 PM | TrackBack

"According to his eyewitness account, all American flags appear to have been purged from the premises"

I'm sorry but that's not what I wrote or implied. Please let's stick to what I did see for real. It's already troubling enough.


Posted by: the dissident frogman at July 2, 2003 12:02 AM

Sorry DF, but I re-read your post and I guess I'm still confused. Maybe I'm just being thick, but what is it you were getting at, if not that?

Posted by: Dr. Frank at July 2, 2003 12:09 AM

I'm taking a damn fine French Since Napoleon class (I'm up to the horrible year of 1958, not the best year in French history), but rough spots between Americans and the French seem sort of wierd. Of course, we had a short naval war with them when John Adams was president, and apparently the Dawes Plan (which was meant to prop up Germany after World War I) ticked off a short anti-American spat in France.

But, yeah, I guess Charles de Gaulle didn't know about D-Day until it already had happened and was furious with Churchill (who, in turn was angry enough to consider dropping diplomatic relations between the UK and Free France).

Personally, I think there's a deep seated, sub-conscious disconnect between the French and Americans that makes friendship challenging. I've read postulations that the French are naturally fiercely independent, whereas I suppose we Americans are more of a "I scratch your back, you scratch mine" sort of culture. Which means, a reasonable, kind, and well balanced American with a reasonable, kind, and well balanced Frenchman are likely to have at the very least, awkward moments in conversation, I suppose (you can stretch this assumption as far as you want with relatively same results).

That is, our troubles between each other aren't caused by Iraq or Bush, those things only revealed what already existed. The French see us--as they always have--as too big for our britches, and we see the French--as we always have--as arrogant or self-important.

My theory.

Posted by: Matt from Vegas at July 2, 2003 01:08 AM

The Frogman doesn't mention whether ANY American flags were left in the museum. Is he saying they were removed only in 3 locations?

Posted by: JB at July 2, 2003 01:34 AM

It's the French, therefore who cares? Let's placate them by making Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen official ambassadors and sending them over there. Then they'll love us. If that doesn't work, we can just have a single F-16 do a fly-over and buzz the Eiffel Tower and they'll immediately surrender.

Posted by: Channon at July 2, 2003 03:16 AM

Umm...I'm also confused, but I...guess that he's saying it's possible, or even likely, that the US government requested these flags be removed?

Or is he just angry because people are trying to figure out the reason? But...that's what people do when an odd, out of place set of incidents happens.

I suppose, as JB guesses, he's just wanting people to be more careful in stating that 3 flags (rather than all) were missing.

In any case, is Woody Allen really particularly popular there? I think he makes a much better director than he would make an ambassador.

Posted by: Dave Bug at July 2, 2003 05:28 AM

The real mystery, to me, is the use of the apostrophe s in the pin picture:


I thought English was the only language that used apostrophe s.

Posted by: Dave Bug at July 2, 2003 05:33 AM

Dave, I think it is English, which is the current lingua franca (irony, but no pun, intended) in Europe, especially where tourist traps are involved. The "''s" is intended to make the word plural. It's a common enough mistake among non-native English speakers, and even among natives. (I've seen "Forty F*ckin' Niner's" and the like fairly often around here. Somewhere I have a photo of a freeway sign from somewhere or other that reads "bus's keep right" right next to one that says "busses only," followed by one that reads "bus' lane".)

And, if I'm not mistaken, Woody Allen had a gig as a damage-control spokesmodel for promoting American tourism in France.

As for the Frogman, I posted an update. It does seem like it was the word "all" that sparked his comment here. I wasn't the only one who took the spin and hyperbole at face value. I shouldn't have said "all," but I remain unconvinced that I misrepresented what his post was essentially trying to convey.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at July 2, 2003 02:55 PM

The Frogman did not make clear that these three places were not the only ones in the museum that you might reasonably expect to see American flags. He didn't note whether he'd seen references to the US inside the museum itself.

What's happened is that (figuratively speaking) the Frogman thought he'd stir up a hornet's nest and instead started the Franco-American War. Now he's going around saying, "I didn't know it was loaded! I didn't know it was a gun! In fact, I didn't see anything at all---how'd that hole get there?"

Sorry, Froggy, but that's sure how it looks to me.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at July 2, 2003 04:26 PM

Angie, you're right. That's how it seems to me, too. What's weird is how hostile he seems to be towards those who essentially, and in good faith, agreed with his obviously intended point, and how he blames them for following the logic implied by his rhetoric. It depends on what your definition of "is" is, of course.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at July 2, 2003 04:50 PM

I also jumped into yesterday's fray with both size tens based on my reading of the DF's original post. And, like Angie, I feel the DF is now groping for a slightly disingenuous defence. However, as swiftly as the blog mob thunders in one direction, it can spin on a dime when new or alternative explanations come along and - most importantly - leave an absolutely unambiguous trail about when and why opinion changed. I'm an ex national newspaper hack and I just rejoice at how liberating this all is; FAR more honest than print journalism's preference for discreetly running rings around the reader when initial facts look a bit wobbly. If this story had been aired in print and followed the same curve, you'd have had the initial shock horror "filthy ingrates" angle, then - oops - a couple of days later, a pretty feature piece about the pockets of doughty pro-Americanism existing in this "much maligned" French town. "The sun-browned wrinkled hands of 86-year-old Pierre DuPont tremble slightly as he reverentially strokes the glass cabinet containing portions of an American airman's uniform " [in the American section of the museum which, I understand, the DF initially overlooked or something?]. I didn't get out of journalism because I was sick of this sort of 'tell the public one thing, then - if it turns out to be dodgy, just tell them the opposite.' I had a much, much higher calling. Namely, "The Unauthorised Biography of Hugh Grant" to write. Still, I glory in the instant self-correction of the blogosphere. And if this turns out to be a "failure" of blogging intelligence, the "success" of the dissemination of the Oxford Professor Wilkie's ghastly response to the Israeli student's application surely trumps it?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at July 2, 2003 06:09 PM

Well, if this LGF reader is correct, DF has entirely mistaken the purpose of that flagpole. It is apparently used for a ceremony once a year:


Sgt. Stryker has a picture (see the bottom one) of the museum in 2002.


The US flag is clearly there, but these are not the flagpoles DF took a picture of. The French flag is higher than the others here, and the British flag is immediately next to it, unlike the poles DF shot.

Assuming this is right, I'd be mortally embarrassed about now if I were DF. (Shit, I am embarrassed and I didn't have anything to do with it---I was not remotely tempted to contact the museum.) As I said, he's got more than he's bargained for, and now, having stirred up the hornets, he's angry at them for stinging. He hadn't meant to make such a fuss, and he's blaming others. It's a common reaction, but not real pretty.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at July 2, 2003 06:10 PM

Jody nails it. To borrow a few words from Frank's tagline, blogging is "unfair" and "unbalanced", but it doesn't need to be otherwise. The blogosphere is "open" and hence, self-correcting.

BTW, given the recent track record of print journalism, I wouldn't use the phrase "higher calling" with any irony whatsoever ;)

Posted by: JB at July 3, 2003 01:04 AM

Tu vois, grenouille.
Même quand tu trahis ton peuple et passes tes journées à battre ta coulpe en public sur tout ce qui ne va pas en France. Il reste des bouffons d'américains pour se foutre de ta gueule parce que t'es français.
Tu pourrais pas être un peu plus respectueux de ton pays, ou juste plus européen même?!

Bonne "continuation".

Posted by: Amaury at October 29, 2003 04:00 AM

It is not so easy...

Posted by: Biggen at February 18, 2004 02:11 PM
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